Rossi Post 5.0: Still just a work in progress, folks.
— See Roster of Rossi posts
Herman J. Rossi’s freedom after the shooting would be short-lived.
On July 7th, Rossi and his defense attorney, Walter H. Hanson, waived the preliminary hearing scheduled that day for his case. (A preliminary hearing is sometimes called “a trial before the trial,” at which a judge must determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial.) Two reasons might be imagined for why Hanson elected to waive it. First, the crime had been directly observed by several witnesses and the basic facts of the shooting were widely known – meaning the prospect of a trial was already a virtual certainty. The defense, needless to say, did not dispute that Rossi shot Dahlquist. Second, Hanson may not have wished to lay out any of the defense’s arguments or strategy before the judge, the prosecutor, and the public in early July and so long before the trial’s commencement. Hanson, almost immediately after the homicide, imposed a curtain of absolute silence on Rossi himself and Rossi’s defense team.
Hanson would later describe this curtain in fulsome legalistic detail. “Following his usual custom,” wrote Hanson in an affidavit submitted to the court in early October and before the trial proper got under way, he’d
…adopted a policy of silence, and refrained from discussing or permitting to be discussed or printed or commented upon, in or by the newspapers the motive or justification which may have prompted the defendant in doing said act, or the defense which would be offered at the time of the trial, and affiant states to the best of his knowledge, information and belief neither the defendant or his Attorneys, nor anyone interested in his defense have discussed the facts in the case or the merits of the case, or revealed the defense which would be made at the trial, or in any way furnished, or permitted to be furnished anything concerning the case which the public might discuss or which might result in rendering it difficult to secure a jury, or in the prejudicing of the public mind or the prospective jurors who might be summoned to hear the case…
With good reason. Hanson did not want to enhance the chances that a motion for a change of venue – taking the trial out of Shoshone County to another North Idaho county – might actually succeed. He undoubtedly saw his best prospects for his defendant’s acquittal with a Shoshone County jury. As we will soon see, Hanson’s curtain-of-silence strategy paid off handsomely when prosecutor H.J. Hull did indeed file a painstakingly detailed change-of-venue motion. Hull argued that Rossi’s community standing, his popularity, and, as well, the prejudicial nature of pre-trial public awareness about the case, made it impossible for the prosecution to have a fair shot at getting a conviction.
With the preliminary hearing waived, Hull asked probate judge R.E. Weniger to terminate bail and commit Rossi to the custody of the sheriff. Hanson, in turn, requested that the defendant be allowed to continue at liberty on bail until the trial started. But Weniger sided with Hull. Rossi, then, was installed into the county jail, then located on the courthouse’s basement floor.
The Wallace Press-Times’ July 8th edition reported that several of Rossi’s business associates and friends visited him there. They, said the article, “found him uncomplaining and making the best of his lot.” Though Rossi was offered “the usual privilege” of having his meals sent in from outside, said the article, he “chose to accept the regular fare of the prisoners in the county jail…” With Rossi in jail and Hanson’s curtain-of-silence clamp-down, the case soon faded from the attentions of both the newspapers and the public.
Rossi would spend about 100 days in the sheriff’s care, until at last the jury acquitted him on Saturday, October 14th, after his dramatic, week-long trial. Journalist L.D. Angevine published a feature article on Rossi in The Tacoma Times on October 10th, as the trial was commensing. Angevine’s main focus was on Rossi’s biography and his rise to prominence in Wallace as a businessman, politician, and public servant. He wrote that Rossi was “recognized as one of Idaho’s most prominent and most influential men…” Angevine chronicled some of Rossi’s career’s remarkable achievements and services he’d rendered to his community. And he quoted the man at the end of his article:
’I have been called out of bed, in the middle of the night, many a time to help serve the public, but I was glad to do it. I am getting my reward, now. People whom I never dreamed were so friendly have come to the jail to seem me – all sorts of them, young and old, rich and poor, kids and old ladies, regardless of politics, sex, or creed.
‘It means something to [a] fellow, at a time like this.’
If he saw it, prosecuting attorney H.J. Hull might well have found little to cheer about in Angevine’s article. Hull knew he faced a considerable obstacle in public sentiment respecting Mr. Rossi. Before the October trial started in earnest, Hull would make a last ditch effort to win a change of venue for the trial. And although it wasn’t his purpose, Hull’s motion would generate a remarkably rich exchange between the prosecution and the defense. Rossi’s standing and influence in the Wallace community would be dissected in exacting detail by the vying attorneys. So too would be the question of public sentiment before the trial. Page upon page of affidavits would be lodged, and preserved, in the trial’s record at the courthouse. Standing back, now, almost a hundred years afterward, the documentary record created by Hull’s change-of-venue motion represents a wonderful and revealing gift for the historian trying to piece together this patch of Wallace’s colorful history.
I’ll turn to Hull’s motion and the record is left in its wake in my next post. Or maybe the next two or three posts, too. Let’s see how it goes.